Travelers to the Hawaiian Islands can attest that the air smells sweet from the potent blossoms that are scattered throughout its landscapes. Once wild and lush, the islands of Hawaii thrived with an estimated 50,000 endemic species of plants. Now with the increase of population and tourism, there are only about 2,600 endemic species left and about 30% of them are endangered. Of these plants, Hawaii is known for the unique tropical flowers that are brilliantly plumed and luxuriously fragrant. Below are some of the most iconic and beloved flowers in Hawaii.
Hibiscus: This yellow variety of this iconic flower is the official state flower for Hawaii. With variations of pink, red, purple, golden and orange, the hibiscus flower is used for many occasions, including hair adornments, costume accessories, cake and cocktail decorations as well as an ingredient for tea. The delicate features and subtle flavor of this flower make it one of the most beloved symbols of the Hawaiian Islands.
Canna: These vibrant orange flowers dwell deep in the humid Hawaiian forests, and have flourished in Hawaii since the 18th century. They are often strung as leis and the seeds are incorporated into Hawaiian rattles and musical instruments.
Cup of Gold: Similar to the canna, these goblet-like flowers thrive in the rain forests and bloom during the winter months. The lengthy flower’s neck can extend up to 9 inches long and is known for its emitting a delicious fragrance. These flowers can be found growing abundantly in Maui and on the Big Island in Akaka Falls State Park.
Heliconia: These spiky red or pink flowers look like a delicate a lobster claw, and can grow on thick stocks extending up to 20 feet high. Though the Heliconia originally comes from South America, there are over 20 species of the flower found in Hawaii.
Ixora: These mini-bouquets of pink and red flowers grow throughout Hawaiian coastal regions and can be strung into leis if done carefully. However, the most popular way that the Ixora is enjoyed in Hawaii is seeing them in gardens and alongside roadsides.
Gardenia: Like many flowers found in Hawaii, Gardenias originally come from Asia. These divinely aromatic flowers have several species, growing petals in a rose-like fashion or that of a pinwheel shape as found on the Tahitian Gardenia.
Ginger: These flowers are laced across Hawaii growing in shady and moist volcanic soil, with in various color blossoms of white, yellow, blue and red. Ginger flower plants can easily overtake an area, growing quickly and blooming from August and through late autumn. It is not to be confused with the white ginger lily flower, which is used in making the very popular ginger lei.
Lehua: This puffy flower comes in yellow, orange, white or red and is one of the most common flowers in Hawaii. The leaves were once used in medicine and ancient Hawaiians believed that plucking the red lehua (also the official flower of the Big Island) could summon rain showers.
Lilikoi: The ornate flowers of the lilikoi or passion fruit are some of the most complicated and distinct flowers in Hawaii. Though there are nearly 500 different species of passion flower vines, only two, including the lilikoi, bear fruit. This plant was brought to Hawaii in 1923 through Australia and its tart fruit became popular in Hawaii. The passion fruit is a beloved flavor of ice cream, cocktails, shave ice and is considered to be one of the most prominent tropical fruits.
Orchid: The orchid is known for is dynamic color variations and for its hardy ability to grow in many regions with buds blooming for months at a time with minimal water. This durable flower comes in almost every color imaginable and is fairly common Hawaii, whether served as decorative pieces in restaurants, offices or homes or strung on leis. The orchid is a Hawaiian staple, particularly the Dendrobium and Epidendrum varieties of this flower.
Pikake: Simple and white, this flowering plant is native to India, but thrives in Hawaii. Pikake is the Hawaiian word for “peacock” and the plant (officially known as Jasimnum sambac) were named for the bird because peacocks and its flowers were the favorite of Princess Ka’iulani. The pikake is typically worn as a lei.
Plumeria: The plumeria embodies both subtle beauty and breathtaking fragrance. The small white, pink or red flowers are highlighted with rosy gold and have soft thick petals that fan out beautifully. The plumeria is a seasonal flower, which thrives best in full sunshine and moderate humidity. On warm days, the scent of the plumeria is evident to all who pass by and is so irresistible that many people will add a blossom to their tresses or clothes.
Tuberose: Elegant white and soft pink petals comprise this unconventional “rose” of the tropics. This night-blooming flower emits a deliciously rosy aroma and grows best in deep moist soil. Though it is a native plant of Mexico, these flowers have become common in making Hawaiian leis.
The mineral-rich volcanic soil of Hawaii and consistent rainfall and sunshine creates the perfect environment for thousands of flower species to flourish. On your next trip to the Aloha State, explore hidden trails, nature hikes, and the Hawaii State Parks where you can catch a glimpse of some of these beauties blooming in their natural habitat.